When Antonia and Sasha Basic arrived in Canberra from Croatia in 2014, they had $2000, four suitcases and no plans.
But today, 11 October, they realised a dream by opening the Magic Kitchen Vegan Cafe in Kingston.
Sasha, a qualified agronomist and organic agriculturist, and Antonia, who had worked in travel and tourism, decided to leave Croatia after growing up there and always struggling to find a sense of belonging.
“We didn’t have a clue about what we were going to do when we came here,” Sasha says while talking with Region Media. “There was no plan, just a decision to come to Australia.”
“In Croatia, we were raised during wars, so as kids we were always looking for a sense of belonging,” says Antonia. “So when we came here, it was the same process of again trying to find that sense of belonging.”
Sasha began labouring and Antonia worked as a waitress in a Croatian restaurant, but Sasha soon found his fingers were better placed in the dirt rather than in cement on building sites.
From their modest home in Hackett, they began growing their own produce, and a community soon showed its first signs of life. They connected with their neighbours who supported them by giving them compost and old seeds to grow.
Antonia and Sasha grew organic produce from their backyard, where all available space was used for sustainable living and their ongoing food story. Antonia turned their food into magic cauldrons of healthy meals suitable for all dietary needs.
With their produce, they began the Canberra Magic Kitchen.
“We remember our first deliveries in Hackett a few years ago when we delivered stews with a bicycle and kid’s trailer,” says Sasha.
Everything was recycled, from making their own compost to the use of boxes and pallets for seedlings. Their food was seasonal and fresh, and they also held workshops promoting sustainable and communal living.
More gardeners joined their growing community and contributed to a market stall held at the front of their Hackett home every Saturday morning. They built the stall from recycled materials and local musicians played as they sold their produce along with homemade crepes, crackers and dips.
Canberra Magic Kitchen dishes then began appearing in select food shops at Ainslie and Kingston.
Sasha also keeps a diary and meditates daily. He recalls coming home after two years of working on construction sites and said he’d had enough.
After three weeks of almost constant meditation, their vision appeared. Sasha knew it was going to involve food. He meditated some more. The food had to be vegan. It had to be a restaurant or cafe.
“I had applied for jobs at the CSIRO and the Arboretum and thank god, I didn’t get those jobs,” says Sasha.
“It wasn’t all about money, it was about pursuing our dreams,” says Antonia.
Their next hurdle came when Antonia and Sasha had to move out of their Hackett home, but this also became a blessing in disguise.
They were offered a residence in the new Kingsborough Village in Kingston. It happened to have a vacant shop space below. It also had some space to plant a little garden, and with the first signs of kale, their magic kitchen grew further.
Sasha soon found his hands back in construction, but this time it was building the next iteration of the Magic Kitchen.
To start, they will serve organic coffee, a range of organic chai and teas, cold-pressed juices, cakes and sweets, as well as some new savoury dishes. All food and beverages are 100 per cent plant-based with gluten-free options.
Their lunch menu will vary daily as their new business continues to evolve. One thing that won’t change is their passion to produce food for their community.
“We like to be surrounded by people and we like to make people happy, to bring them together and bring good vibes,” says Antonia.
“The easiest thing for me is to open myself to the world and bring the community together and that’s where I feel like I belong.”
Sasha says when food tells a story, it is always appreciated and that when a meal is eaten, it is by no means the end.
“When we arrived here with $2000, we needed to be creative and we needed to be brave to be able to survive and support our family. But I never had a doubt,” he says.
The Magic Kitchen Vegan Cafe in Kingsborough Village is accessible from Parberry or Dawes Street. It will open Monday to Friday from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm and from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm on weekends.
The Canberra Magic Kitchen is also on Facebook.